Two low-level astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence) get more than they wanted when they discover a planet-killing asteroid is heading straight for Earth and will wipe out all life within six months. When US President Orlean (Meryl Streep) fails to take the threat seriously, the two astronomers embark on a media campaign to warn the world of its impending doom...
If history has thought us anything, if there is one truth that has sustained through the ages, it's that celebrity power applied to real-world events has the same impact as a light breeze on a roaring fire. It may not have been what 'Don't Look Up' and writer-director Adam McKay was driving at, but you come away from this movie with the certain knowledge that we are utterly, completely screwed and nobody - not even three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep - is going to save us. 'Don't Look Up', however, alternates between this and admonishing everyone else from not looking up from their phones or entertainment websites (hint) to realise the impending doom.
'Don't Look Up' is aiming to be this smart, razor-sharp satire in the vein of 'Network', but it can't seem to target anyone with real precision. Instead, the broadsides at our doom-scrolling culture found in the script and in the movie never breach the sinking ship of humanity. So what's the point of 'Don't Look Up', then?
Leonardo DiCaprio is able to play the sweaty science-schlub who becomes more and more media-trained, while Jennifer Lawrence has the headstrong Cassandra-type role down pat. Meryl Streep, meanwhile, underplays her role as the US President, instead allowing Jonah Hill to take up the comedic slack and fill their scenes together. Ron Perlman, meanwhile, has some of the best jokes in the movie as an all-American astronaut hero who, it turns out, has some very questionable opinions on racial relations in the US. Timothée Chalamet only turns up in the last half-hour of the movie and doesn't necessarily impact the story other than to provide for a surprising moment at the end when his character embraces faith, but not in a way that feels empty or false. Mark Rylance, meanwhile, has a distracting performance as a catch-all stand-in for Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and every other tech-guru you can think of. Teetering between creepy and comic, Rylance's presence in the movie serves as a reminder of how just overserved 'Don't Look Up' is with talent.
In assembling a cast of this size and this much star-power and with a story of this magnitude and all the timeliness that it implies, 'Don't Look Up' feels curiously empty. There's a real rotten core to it that bubbles up every now and then and reminds us that nothing is going to save us from our fate. How do you make jokes about that? Can you still get people to laugh? Remember, this is from the director of 'Anchorman', 'Step Brothers', and the writer of that K-SWiss video with Kenny Powers from 'Eastbound & Down'. If anyone is capable of making funny out of planetary annihilation, it's going to be the guy responsible for the F*ckin' Catalina Wine Mixer. Yet, throughout 'Don't Look Up', the comedy never really comes into being. Cate Blanchett's dead-eyed frothiness and bright-white teeth, Leonardo DiCaprio screaming at the top of his lungs on live TV, Ariana Grande calmly telling people to f*ck off when asking about her personal life, Jonah Hill channelling 'Superbad'-era levels of snivelling - none of it connects quite as it should, even if some of these moments are (somewhat) funny on their own.
In comparison to something like 'This Is The End', the task of trying to make funny out of our end is hard work for 'Don't Look Up' because there's nothing really funny about it. The last thing everyone needs is A-list actors reminding the audience that our inattention to the end of the world is hastening it when they're the ones who are off flying in private jets and partying with Jeff Bezos or getting richer with streaming deals while the rest of us die in the fires while they're on an escape route to space.